Definition: Behaviors and expectations of people are continually changing due to their learning and creativity.

Impacted Patterns: co-evolution of problem-solution, the force awakens, solution looking for a problem, design-by-buzzword, inverse Conwayian laws, commitment, cherry picking.


In a design activity, all involved stakeholders are continually learning and discovering new things. Designers learn about new technologies, user wishes, or new design methods, and they may change their designs because of that. Challenging or innovative designs require extensive investigation, experimentation, and iterative improvement based on lessons learned. Fred Brooks even argued that in the design of radically new systems, because of the intensive learning process, designers should plan to throw away the first system that they build. They should then use the gained knowledge to implement the system properly in the next run (Chapter “You won’t get it right the first time anyway!”, in Brook 1995). Moreover, through design, we can learn lessons that are usually difficult to obtain by other means (e.g. Obrenovic 2011).

Clients also learn about new technologies and other designs. And if such learning is extensive, it may lead to significant changes in their perceptions and expectations.

Even the design outcomes are nowadays becoming more intelligent, being able to learn about the environment and the user and to show some form of agency and intelligent behavior (Holmquist 2017). The behavior of such systems is dependent on the history of its usage and the context. It becomes challenging to anticipate responses of such systems in all situations. Because of learning and creativity designers do not work with “mechanical” systems that react the same to the same “stimulus.” Rather, because of learning and adaptation, such “systems” may act and react or “behave” differently each time they are approached.

Learning is also related to discovery and creativity. Boden (2004) noted that people expect three elements of any creative contributions: novelty, utility, and surprise. And designers are expected to come up with new and surprising solutions. Schön (1983) used the notion of ‘surprise’ in his theory of creative design. For Schön surprise leads to design situation framing and reframing keeps a designer from routine behavior, and drive the originality streak in a design project. However, as a consequence, creativity and surprise, are also sources of dynamic and arbitrary change – leading to additional dynamics of design activities.

In addition to designers’ creativity, users and clients may use design solutions in unexpected ways. As discussed in the solution looking for a problem pattern, people may find new, often surprising usages of design tools and methods.

Learning and creativity lead to constant changing of behaviors and expectations of people. This change contributes significantly to the dynamics of design activities, and are one of the main sources behind many patterns of dynamics between elements of design activities. The co-evolution of problem-solution pattern is often a consequence of learning and creativity of both designers and their clients (e.g. Dorst & Cross 2001). As designers engage in design activities, they will discover new things about design situations. As a design outcome begins to emerge, new implications may be discovered. When clients see initial sketches, prototypes, or some version of design outcome, they may discover what they really want, but also learn about new possibilities of used materials and technologies, and as a consequence, they may change their wishes. The force awakens pattern is partially a consequence of people outside the design activity learning about the value of the design outcome. This learning may lead them to react in a way that may change our design situation. The solution looking for a problem pattern is a consequence of people’s creativity in finding new uses for existing solutions.

The design-by-buzzword pattern is frequently a consequence of people’s curiosity and wish to learn new technologies. Shane Greenstein (2018), for instance, noted that many people enjoy acquiring expertise for its own sake, for the scientific adventure of it, and for the hope of translating that expertise into a great wave. He illustrated this point with an example of a new generation of technological analysts that are educating themselves on the nuances of the blockchain, concluding that “some of this is about the money, but a lot of it is about enjoying the adventure and becoming expert.

The commitment pattern is closely related to learning, as committing to using some design resources facilitates learning and mastering of its usage. The conformity pattern is partially a consequence of design professionals being able to quickly learning how to use the same popular design resource. The eating its own dog food pattern is an attempt to stimulate intensive learn within the design company about their designs. And the inverse Conwayian laws pattern is a consequence of designers and organizations learning and adapting to efficiently produce a particular design outcome.

The cherry picking pattern may be viewed as an attempt to avoid risks and costs of extensive learning. In this pattern, designers know limitations of their resources and are applying them only in situations where the resources have proved their value and no surprises are expected.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How do you come up with new ideas?
  • How do you discipline your creativity?
  • How do you stimulate your individual and group creativity?
  • How do you prevent being unnecessary creative?

Cover Art

Creative usage of a pen as an “emergency” capo. People often find new and surprising usages of artifacts. Credit: Larry Jacobsen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0.